Mag Asks : Bush Dyslexic?

HELEN KENNEDY

Daily News Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON

New magazine profile by author Gail Sheehy diagnoses the gaffe-prone George W. Bush as probably dyslexic and speculates that he also suffers from attention deficit disorder.

Sheehy, who has written a biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton, quotes two dyslexia experts as saying the Texas governor's tortured syntax and verbal howlers indicate dyslexia.

The story in Vanity Fair's new edition also notes that learning disability runs in families and Bush's younger brother, Neil, is dyslexic.

The Bush campaign denied that the GOP presidential candidate is dyslexic.

Experts contacted by the Daily News were skeptical that such a diagnosis could be made without an examination but said Bush does exhibit some symptoms of a learning disability.

"Based on his speech and behavior, his hyperactivity and impulsivity, you can say there is a possibility of some sort of disorder," said Dr. Irwin Rosenthal, who sits on the board of the New York Association for the Learning Disabled.

"If he were in a New York City school, they would pick up on this and say, 'Let's check out this person,'" he said.

Dr. Larry Silver, president of the Learning Disabilities Association, said it is inappropriate to speculate.

"I don't think you can diagnose anyone with dyslexia just from the way they talk," he said. "And even if it were true, it doesn't prevent him from being an intelligent and competent person."

Dyslexia, which most often shows up as difficulty reading, affects how a person processes language.

The Vanity Fair profile also speculates that Bush who avoids long meetings and sets aside 3 1/2 hours every day in his gubernatorial schedule to jog and play video games has an attention disorder, which often can be linked to dyslexia.

Sheehy notes that Bush is extremely adept at social interaction and can astonish people with his ability to remember names and personal details traits exhibited by dyslexics who have to find other ways to navigate the world.

Bush spokesman Ray Sullivan dismissed the story, saying Bush communications director Karen Hughes had told Sheehy it wasn't true.

"Ms. Sheehy was informed prior to the publication of this story that the governor is not dyslexic. He is still not dyslexic," Sullivan said.

Sheehy said she and Hughes never spoke about it.

On the campaign trail, Bush has called himself the First Lady of Texas and told working moms he knows it's hard "to put food on your family." Massacring the words "tariffs" and "trade barriers," he has vowed to "knock down terriers."

But Linda Bejorian, a speech pathologist at New York's Speech Matters, marveled that Bush sometimes sounds like a stroke victim.

"He definitely has problems with word retrieval," she said. "He's dipping into the right word pool in his brain but pulling out the wrong word. We all do that to some extent, but we catch ourselves doing it. He doesn't seem to correct himself. That's kind of curious."

Some political professionals think Bush's gaffes make him more appealing. "People may think, 'By golly, he sounds like a human, like a real guy,'" said Harvard speech Prof. Dennis Becker.

Conquering Their Disability

If George W. Bush does have dyslexia, it puts him in an impressive group of men and women who have overcome the learning disability to achieve great things, say dyslexia advocates.

The Web site www.dyslexia.com, maintained by the Davis Dyslexia Association International of Burlingame, Calif., lists these other well-known movers and shakers who had dyslexia or its symptoms :

Political Leaders Winston Churchill, Andrew Jackson, John F. Kennedy, George Washington and Nelson Rockefeller.

Business Tycoons Ted Turner, Henry Ford, William Hewlett (of Hewlett Packard), Charles Schwab and F.W. Woolworth.

Military Heroes Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson and George Patton.

Inventors and Scientists Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein.

Actors Fred Astaire, George Burns, Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Danny Glover, Robin Williams and Henry Winkler.

Musicians John Lennon, Cher, Brad Little and Nigel Kennedy.

Joe Williams